The Fortune Cookie
The Fortune Cookie (1966) poster.jpg
theatrical film poster
Directed byBilly Wilder
Written byBilly Wilder
I.A.L. Diamond
Produced byBilly Wilder
StarringJack Lemmon
Walter Matthau
Ron Rich
Cliff Osmond
Judi West
CinematographyJoseph LaShelle
Edited byDaniel Mandell
Music byAndré Previn
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • October 19, 1966 (1966-10-19) (NYC)[1]
Running time
125 minutes
Box office$6,800,000[2]

The Fortune Cookie (alternative UK title: Meet Whiplash Willie) is a 1966 American black comedy film directed, produced and co-written by Billy Wilder. It was the first film in which Jack Lemmon collaborated with Walter Matthau. Matthau won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance.


CBS cameraman Harry Hinkle is injured, when football player Luther "Boom Boom" Jackson of the Cleveland Browns runs into him during a home game at Municipal Stadium. Harry's injuries are minor, but his conniving lawyer brother-in-law William H. "Whiplash Willie" Gingrich convinces him to pretend that his leg and hand have been partially paralyzed, so they can receive a huge indemnity from the insurance company.[3]

Harry reluctantly goes along with the scheme because he is still in love with his ex-wife, Sandy, and being injured might bring her back. The insurance company's lawyers at O'Brien, Thompson and Kincaid suspect that the paralysis is a fake, but all but one of their medical experts say that it is real. The experts are convinced by the remnants of a compressed vertebra (in fact, Hinkle suffered the injury as a child), and Hinkle's responses, helped by the numbing shots of novocaine Gingrich has had a paroled dentist give him. The one holdout, Swiss Professor Winterhalter, is convinced that Hinkle is a fake. With no medical evidence to base their case on, O'Brien, Thompson and Kincaid hire Cleveland's best private detective, Chester Purkey, to keep Hinkle under constant surveillance. However, Gingrich sees Purkey entering the apartment building across the street and lets Hinkle know they are being watched and recorded - and after Sandy arrives, warns him not to indulge in any hanky panky with her. He proceeds to feed misinformation to Purkey; he incorporates the "Harry Hinkle Foundation", a non-profit charity to which all the proceeds of any settlement are to go, above and beyond the medical expenses. When Sandy questions Gingrich about this in private, he tells her that it is just a scam to put pressure on the insurance company to settle, and that there will be enough money in the settlement for everyone. Hinkle begins to enjoy having Sandy back again, but he feels bad when he sees that Boom-Boom is so guilt-ridden, his performance on the field suffers; he is booed by the fans and then grounded by the team for getting drunk and involved in a bar fight.

Hinkle wants Gingrich to represent Boom-Boom, but to Hinkle's displeasure, Gingrich says he is too busy negotiating with O'Brien, Thompson & Kincaid. Hinkle learns Sandy has returned to him strictly out of greed. Hinkle obtains a $200,000 settlement check. However, Purkey has a plan to expose the scam. He shows up at the apartment supposedly to collect his microphones. He begins to make racist remarks about Boom-Boom and "our black brothers" getting out of hand. Hinkle, incensed, jumps up out his wheelchair and decks Purkey, but Purkey's assistant Max is not sure he recorded it on film because "It's a little dark". Hinkle asks Purkey if he would like a second take, turns on a light and advises the cameraman how to set his exposure. He then punches Purkey again, and follows up by swinging from curtain rods and bouncing on the bed. Sandy is crawling on the floor looking for her lost contact lens, and just before he leaves the apartment, Hinkle roughly pushes her down to the ground with his foot. Gingrich claims he had no idea that his client was deceiving him, and announces his intention to sue the insurance company lawyers for invasion of privacy and report Purkey's racist remarks to various organizations. Hinkle drives to the stadium, where he finds Boom-Boom leaving the team and becoming a wrestler named "The Dark Angel". He manages to snap him out of the state, and the two run down the field passing a football back and forth between them.



Terminal Tower, a major Cleveland landmark, served as the exterior for the law firms in the film
Terminal Tower, a major Cleveland landmark, served as the exterior for the law firms in the film

Wilder had Matthau in mind when he wrote the part of "Whiplash Willy". He hoped it would boost his career in movies, but the studio wanted a bigger name.[5] Lemmon originally had two other actors proposed to star with him – Frank Sinatra and Jackie Gleason – but Wilder insisted that he do the picture with Walter Matthau. Production on the film was halted for weeks after Walter Matthau had a heart attack. By the time Matthau was healthy enough to work, and filming started up again, he had slimmed down from 190 to 160 pounds and had to wear a heavy black coat and padded clothing to conceal the weight loss.[6]

Scenes were filmed during the Cleveland Browns' 27–17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings at Cleveland Stadium on the afternoon of October 31, 1965. According to The Saturday Evening Post, additional footage was shot the day after the game with Browns players as themselves and the Vikings.[4][citation needed] Luther "Boom Boom" Jackson's uniform number 44 was actually worn by Leroy Kelly, who was deemed "too small to pass for actor Ron Rich at close range" according to the Post. Ernie Green and a stunt performer both stood in for Rich, with the latter only for the sideline collision scene. A third consecutive day of shooting had the Kent State University freshman football team replacing the Browns, who were unavailable due to beginning preparations for their next opponent.[4]

Saint Mark's Hospital in the film is the newly completed St. Vincent Charity Hospital, a curved building considered ultramodern at that time. An exterior scene was filmed on East 24th Street outside an older section of the hospital. Terminal Tower served as the exterior of the law firm. In one scene, one can see Erieview Tower and the steel skeleton of the Anthony J. Celebrezze Federal Building under construction.[citation needed]


Vincent Canby of The New York Times called the film, "a fine, dark, gag-filled hallucination, peopled by dropouts from the Great Society" and "an explosively funny live-action cartoon about petty chiselers who regard the economic system as a giant pinball machine, ready to pay off to anyone who tilts it properly."[7][8]

Variety found the film "generally amusing (often wildly so), but overlong."[9]

The Hollywood Reporter asserted that The Fortune Cookie was "Billy Wilder's best picture since The Apartment, his funniest since Some Like It Hot."[10]

Box office

The film, grossed $6,000,000 at the North American box office,[11] making it the 23rd highest-grossing film of 1966. The film earned $6.8 million worldwide.[2]


Award Category Nominee(s) Result
Academy Awards Best Supporting Actor Walter Matthau Won
Best Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond Nominated
Best Art Direction – Black-and-White Robert Luthardt and Edward G. Boyle Nominated
Best Cinematography – Black-and-White Joseph LaShelle Nominated
Golden Globe Awards Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy Walter Matthau Nominated
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards Best Supporting Actor Won
Laurel Awards Top Male Supporting Performance Won
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Written American Comedy Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond Nominated

See also



  1. ^ a b The Fortune Cookie at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. ^ a b Box Office Information for The Fortune Cookie. IMDb via Internet Archive. Retrieved June 6, 2013.
  3. ^ Gingrich initially sues the Cleveland Browns, CBS and Municipal Stadium for $1 million; the settlement is $200,000, equivalent to $1,800,000 in 2022. In the script Gingrich calls this the largest personal injury settlement in Ohio to that time.
  4. ^ a b c "A 50-year-old ‘Fortune Cookie’ brings some tasty memories of filming at Cleveland stadium," Akron Beacon Journal, Sunday, November 22, 2015. Retrieved September 8, 2022.
  5. ^ Hazelton, Lachlan (2001). Team Work. The Films of Jack Lemmon & Walter Matthau. Sydney: Sideline Books. p. 15. ISBN 0958007500.
  6. ^ Stowe, Madelaine (June 25, 2016) Outro to the Turner Classic Movies presentation of the film.
  7. ^ "'The Fortune Cookie,' Funny Fantasy of Chiselers, Begins Its Run". Retrieved 10 August 2018.
  8. ^ Canby, Vincent (October 20, 1966) "Screen: 'The Fortune Cookie,' Funny Fantasy of Chiselers, Begins Its Run:3 Manhattan Theaters Have Wilder's Film Walter Matthau Stars As Farcical Villain A Western and a Horror Film Also Open Here" The New York Times
  9. ^ "The Fortune Cookie". Variety. 1 January 1966. Retrieved 10 August 2018.
  10. ^ "'The Fortune Cookie': THR's 1966 Review". Retrieved 10 August 2018.
  11. ^ "The Fortune Cookie, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved April 16, 2012.